Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Racing towards a nicer world

We recently held a sports event for our playgroup program with kids between age 2.5 to 4 years participating in some simple games. The event means a lot of preparation and work back end beyond our regular sessions. But it is so worth it! Personally for me the highlight is the preparation - which starts 6 weeks prior to the D-day, with each  teacher getting her group to practise the games that they would eventually participate in on the final day. Like they say the journey being more important than the destination - it's real fun to see these kids as they get ready for the D-day. I see both independence and team bonding emerging clearly during this phase. The children seem to be mighty kicked that everyone in the class is doing the same thing and doing it together. Be it the simple marching and subsequent drill that each class presents or the organized games. 

So on the D-day, its not like we have on-the-spot races and competitions. Not that it matters to the young children anyway! And I say this because in the last 3 sports events that we have conducted so far - my consistent observation has been that peer-level competition is practically non-existent for these kids. Not just during the team activities but even when they are standing along the start line waiting for a race to begin. Children this age are just not able to see individual performance as different from others'. They seem to playing every game in the true spirit of 'lets-have-fun-together' and not like 'i-got-to-win-this'

For instance, for this year's theme 'Street games' - each batch participated in a simpler adaptation of a street game and also in a typical race. Some examples that i can recall now that shows this non-existing sense of competition:
- while playing blind man's bluff, children actually stop running when they see one of their friends blindfolded and go hold his hand 
- while playing 'saakhli' (a chain tag game). when the chain gets longer, a couple of children who still have to be caught, invariably run and join the chain, because the chain seems to be having more fun!
- in a race, the child who finishes first, sees some of her friends still on the race track and she runs back to join them and continues in the race.
- in a round of lemon and spoon race, one kid's lemon rolls off. the kid in the adjacent track actually stops to pick it up and hands it back to the first kid.

So honestly speaking, these kids just don't get it. No matter how many times the teachers explain the rules or demonstrate or even cheer individual kids, they just don't get it!

Competition is so real for us adults. And more so at the peer level. When we interact with parents of the playgroup program as they are trying to decide which school, a lot of them are fretting about how tough this competition will be for their kids. For a qualifying exam that their child will take 12 years later to get into college. But their kids - refuse to understand, acknowledge or create this air of competition.

And while i do agree that competition is real, i honestly am not able to understand when the concept of peer competition sets in. Certainly not in the first two years of formal learning. So when does this sense of having fun together and collaborating get converted to competing? My fear is that its a change in perspective that we force in as adults into the child's world. Based on our own experiences which we probably took in from our parents. And so it continues. 

Imagine for a moment, what if this was little different - instead of adults forcing their perspective on children, what if we embraced theirs? What would change in our world? In our homes, communities, work places? How different would our interactions, arguments, negotiations be? 

This may not change too soon but its worth a thought. In the words of Lennon, you may say i am dreamer, but (i hope) i am not the only one....


Magic Puddles said...


Anonymous said...

Very thought provoking post, and what a cute scene! I have always embraced competition and thrive in it, but come to think of it - maybe I didn't start off that way :)

Neelakantan said...

Lots of thoughts on this - perhaps when we meet :)